Resources for families dealing with parental depression
By Michelle D. Sherman
Over five million children in the United States have a parent with a serious mental illness. Although each child’s experience is unique, living with a parent with major depression can be embarrassing, confusing, lonely and scary. As highlighted in this newsletter, youth growing up with parents dealing with depression are at greater risk of emotional problems themselves due to both genetic factors and psychosocial experiences.
Historically, these children have received little attention. British child and adolescent psychiatrist, Alan Cooklin, MD, described the situation as follows: “Children with a parent with mental illness often fall through the cracks and are seen as nobody's responsibility. Nothing is explained to them, and they often receive no help at all... These children need to be seen and heard” (Cooklin, 2007). The norm continues to be separation between adult and child providers, distinct funding streams and disconnected service delivery systems. Some excellent but busy adult providers don’t routinely assess if a client has children, nor do they take the time to explore the experience of parenthood or the children’s experiences.
Mental health providers — both those specializing in treating adults and youth — have a tremendous opportunity to see and hear these children. One non-threatening way to introduce this topic clinically is through provision of resources. It is highly recommended that providers read the books/online materials prior to recommending them to clients. Further, parents should read the children’s books before giving them to their youth. Engaging with these resources can open dialogue, normalize feelings and experiences, and teach children basic coping skills that can empower them in coping with the challenges often associated with parental depression.
Books for Elementary School Age Youth
- Andrews, B. (2002). Why are you so sad? A child’s book about parental depression. New York: Magination Press. (ages 5-10).
- Miller, D. (2008). Big and me. Victoria, Australia: Ford Street Publishing. (ages 7-10: a picture book about living with a parent who has any mental illness).
- Peterson, L. (2008). Meeting Miss 405. Victoria, British Columbia, Canada: Orca Book Publishers. (ages 8-11: short story about a young girl whose mother is hospitalized for depression).
- Clarke, L. (2006). Wishing wellness: A workbook for children of parents with mental illness. New York: Magination Press. (ages 6-11).
- Kelbaugh, G., & Nault, C. (2002). Can I catch it like a cold? Toronto, Canada: Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. (ages 5-8).
Books for Teenagers
- Fischer, J. M. (2004). An egg on three sticks. St Martin’s Press. (teenage girl dealing with maternal psychotic depression).
- Marchetta, M. (2006). Saving Francesca. Random House Children's Books. (teenage girl dealing with maternal depression).
- Sherman, M.D., & Sherman, D.M. (2006). I’m not alone: A teen’s guide to living with a parent who has a mental illness. (interactive workbook for teens whose parent has depression, bipolar disorder, or schizophrenia; can serve as a group therapy curriculum).
- Sherman, M.D., & Sherman, D.M. (2005). Finding my way: A teen’s guide to living with a parent who has experienced trauma. (interactive workbook for teens whose parent has experienced any kind of trauma; can serve as a group therapy curriculum).
Books for Parents
- Beardslee, W. (2003). When a parent is depressed: How to protect your children from the effects of depression in the family. Little, Brown & Company.
- Nicholson, J., Henry, A.D., Clayfield, J.C., & Phillips, S.M. (2001). Parenting well when you are depressed: A complete resource for maintaining a healthy family. New York: New Harbinger Publications.
- Sheffield, A. (2001). Sorrow's web: Hope, help, and understanding for depressed mothers and their children. Simon & Schuster Adult Publishing Group.
Websites and Programs
In addition to books, there are new websites, programs and online training that may be useful to providers and clients. Many of the resources developed and implemented in Australia (COMIC and COPMI) are especially helpful, and interested clinicians are encouraged to review these websites.
- The Crooked House: Surviving the Trauma of Childhood with a Parent who has Mental Illness
Video and narratives of adult children’s experiences, as well as a blog.
- Parenting Well Project
Resources for healthy families.
- National Network of Adult and Adolescent Children who have a Mentally Ill Parent/s (Australia)
- Children of Mentally Ill Consumers
- Children of Parents with a Mental Illness (COPMI)
COPMI Australia developed an e-learning resource about children of parent with mental illness for mental health and social workers. They also have downloadable posters for psychiatric units titled, “Keeping in Touch with your Children.”
- Specific “Tips for Talking” for parents of children of various age groups
- Family Focus program
Cooklin, A. (2007). ‘Being seen and heard’: The needs of children of parents with mental illness. London, England: RCPsych Publications